Cracking The Sales Management Code: A Closer Look at Sales Activities

This post originally appeared here in the Sales Management Association blog.

Part Two of a Four Part Series

In this series of blogs, we introduce research findings from our best-selling book, Cracking the Sales Management Code. In the first blog, we revealed that there are three levels of sales force metrics, as judged by their ‘manageability’:

  • Business Results like percent revenue growth, which are completely unmanageable
  • Sales Objectives such as number of new customers acquired, which can be influence but not directly managed
  • Sales Activities like percent of account plans completed, which are directly manageable

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In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at Sales Activities and their close relatives – sales processes.

From Activities to Processes

In the first blog, we showed how Sales Activities are the most tactical and manageable sales force events – things such as making sales calls, using CRM, and coaching salespeople. As we studied these activities, we noticed that they fell into logical groupings that could be used to accomplish similar outcomes. We called these groupings sales processes.

The term ‘sales process’ is not new, obviously, and it means different things to different people. Our research suggested that the sales process is, in fact, a collection of distinct selling activities that work to accomplish unique objectives. Understanding the differences between the different processes is vital since it allows for better management and enablement of each process, which in turn leads to superior sales performance. Every company must answer this important question to solve the sales productivity conundrum:

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What distinct sales processes do we need for our sales force

5 Distinct Sales Processes

We identified five sales processes that encompassed all Sales Activities in our study:
1. Call Management. This process helps salespeople improve the quality of a single customer interaction, whether face-to-face or by phone. It includes activities such as planning, executing, and documenting individual sales calls. Sample metrics include number of call plans completed, percentage of reps following the process, and number of minutes talk time.

2. Opportunity Management. A series of sales calls in pursuit of a single sale is an ‘opportunity.’ This process helps salespeople plan and execute a thoughtful approach to long, complex sale cycles. Examples of metrics in this category include number of opportunity plans completed, percentage of qualified opportunities, and adherence to opportunity planning process.

3. Account Management. If multiple opportunities are pursued over time with a single customer, then you are probably managing an ongoing business relationship. This process will assess a company’s position with a key customer and coordinate internal and external resources to grow the long-term value of the account. Examples of metrics here are percent account plans completed, number of joint meetings with account, and number of interactions per account,

4. Territory Management. If a salesperson has an assigned group of accounts or prospects, then they have a ‘territory.’ A territory does not necessarily need to be geographically defined, but perhaps by industry, or customer segment, etc. This process helps salespeople decide how to allocate their time across a large group of customers. Sample metrics are number of accounts per rep, number of sales calls made, and percent prospects vs. active customers.

5. Sales Force Enablement. This process is the largest in scope and is very diverse in nature. Activities include recruiting, selecting, training, motivating, coaching, compensating, and providing tools that enable the sales force’s performance. Enablement is typically shared across several roles and departments, including sales, HR, and finance. Metrics might include percentage of time spent coaching, number of hours training per FTS, technology spend per FTE.

How to Select Your Company’s Sales Processes

Our research demonstrated that sales processes should never be selected at a company-wide level. The need for a specific sales process is determined by the nature of each distinctive selling role. That is, companies don’t need account management processes – only those salespeople who manage accounts in that company need them.

Here are some guidelines for when a process is appropriate for a particular selling role:

  • Use Call Management when the salesperson has a low to moderate volume of varied and high-risk customer interactions
  • Use Opportunity Management when the salesperson is targeting customers with complex buying processes (numerous buying stages and/or multiple buyers with different buying needs)
  • Use Account Management when the salesperson is pursuing multiple opportunities over time with the same customer and there is an economic justification for the added layer of effort
  • Use Territory Management when the salesperson makes proactive customer contact and the salesperson needs to prioritize the selling effort to allocate it across different types of customers and prospects
  • Use Sales Force Enablement when the company wants to affect decisions in the hiring, training, measuring, coaching, motivating, rewarding, and enabling of the sales force

Note that it is not the title of the role that indicates which processes are important; examine the nature of the selling activities to determine which processes are applicable to the execution, measurement, and management of that selling role.

Key Take Aways

Sales leadership must understand the five types sales processes and their unique applications to distinct selling roles. We’ll leave you with few final thoughts:
1. There are several discrete sales processes with different uses and metrics, and
sales leaders must be very deliberate about the processes they choose to deploy
2. If the wrong processes are chosen or are badly designed, the processes will be quickly abandoned by the sales force.
3. The investment required to design and deploy a new sales process is substantial, and underinvesting in its success will ensure failure.
4. Nothing will drive more consistent sales improvement than institutionalizing formal sales processes that align with the sales force’s objectives.